Engaruka ruins is situated 63 kilometer north of Mto wa Mbu, on the road to Oldoinyo Lengai and Lake Natron.The village of Engaruka lies at the foot of the rift valley escarpment. Fast flowing streams from the escarpment are utilised to irrigating small plots and give the village a pleasant green look, in contrast to the surrounding plains where Maasai cattle graze side by side with herds of zebras. Birds of prey circle above the area looking for a kill, while remarkable looking secretary birds, beloved as snake killers strut across the plains. Dust cyclones are often seen on the horizon, they are feared as “devils fingers”, bringing bad luck when they touch people.
Engaruka Ruins Tanzania
Engaruka ruins is one of Tanzania’s most important historic sites. Some 500 years ago, a farming community of several thousand developed an ingenious irrigation and cultivation system. The water that flowed from the rift escarpment was channeled into stone-built canals and led to stone-bench terraces. Measures were taken to prevent soil erosion and the fertility of the plots was increased by using the manure of stall fed cattle. For unknown reasons, the farmers left Engaruka around 1700. Now, three centuries later, the ruins still give a good impression of the highly specialized , integrated agricultural economy, very remarkable for that period of African history.
Although several famous archaeologists – including Louis Leakey – have investigated the Engaruka ruins, the site is still surrounded with mysteries. Many questions remain unanswered:
– Who were the people living in Engaruka?
– How did they come to develop such an ingenious farming system?
– Why did they finally leave Engaruka?
Several theories have been developed, but none of them have as yet been verified.
Different tours of Engaruka
You have a choice of several guided tours that show you the history, scenic beauty and daily life of Engaruka.
Visit to the ruined city
The ruined city of Engaruka is situated at the foot of the Rift Valley Escarpment. Here you can see the abandoned remnants of the complicated irrigation system. The guide will help you to identify old graves, house walls, irrigation canals and terraces, and explain to you the various
theories of the rise and fall of this highly specialized farming community. The ruined city abounds with colourful birds and butterflies, remnants from the German colonial times and you can visit an “Olpul”, a place where Maasai slaughter and eat their cows.
A one or two hours’ visit will give you an impression of the ruined city; a chance that you simply cannot miss, when passing through Engaruka.
For those with more time, tours can be offered that vary from a half day to two days.
Engaruka Ruins Half day tours
– Engaruka Farming tour
Starting from the ruins you walk down to the green village of Engaruka. On your way you will visit several farms, where various crops are grown and explanations are given about current farming and irrigation methods in the area. Engaruka is one of the few places in East Africa where Maasai are practicing irrigation, but also other tribes have arrived into the area for farming. Your guide will give you extensive descriptions of the tribal background in the village. On your way back you can visit the market area of Engaruka, located in the shade of an African tulip tree and a huge mkuyu tree. Especially on the market days – Sunday and Thursday – a visit will be an unforgettable experience.
– Rift Valley Escarpment Tour
From the ruined city narrow footpaths wind up the Rift Valley escarpment. Guided by a Maasai warrior you will gradually climb the escarpment. From above you have a wonderful view of the ruined city and over the surrounding Maasai plains. During the walk, the guide will help you to spot many colourful birds and show you trees and plants that the Maasai use for making food and for medicines.
Engaruka Full day Tours
– Kerimasi mountain climb
North of Engaruka arises the green mountain of Kerimasi. The mountain is of volcanic origin, but not as steep as several other volcanoes in the area. The climb takes three to four hours from the foot of the mountain to the summit. On your way you see Maasai cattle grazing in the pastures on the slopes and birds of prey circling over the area. From the top you have impressive views of Oldoinyo Lengai, Lake Natron, the Ngorongoro highlands and the mountains of Ketumbeine and Gelai. The descend takes two hours. You will be collected by car to return you to your camp.
Engaruka Two Days’ Tours
– Hike to Oldoinyo Lengai
For a more strenuous and adventurous hike you can after climbing Kerimasi, try to conquer Oldoinyo Lengai, “the mountain of God” in the Maasai language. On day one you climb Kerimasi mountain and descend on the North side. You camp at the foot of Oldoinyo Lengai, the only active volcano in Tanzania. In the early morning of day two, preferably when it is still dark, you start climbing the steep volcano. Four to Five hours exertion will bring you to the top, where you can even enter the crater to watch the volcanic activity. Two and a half hours’ descent will bring you back to the foot of the Oldonyo Lengai for collection by car.
In Engaruka ruins there are two campsites with modest facilities. One campsite belongs to the Lutheran church and is located close to the ruined city; the other campsite belongs to a private Maasai and is situated along the main road from Mto wa Mbu to Lake Natron. In the village fresh fruits and vegetables can be bought and a women’s group can prepare a meal on request .
At the ruined city there are still several remnants of houses and graves and the former irrigation channels and stone terraces can easily be identified.
Although built without cement more than 500 years ago, more has remained from the agricultural settlement than from the stone houses built by Germans early this century. However with the disappearance of the tse tse fly in the area two decades ago, cattle graze the area in the dry season, thereby heavily impacting the ruins. If this situation continues for another ten years, the ruins may disappear for good.
The local community now wants to design a by-law to prohibits all cattle from entering the ruined city. In return, the community will ask an entrance fee from visitors. The fees goes to a village development fund to be used for development purposes selected by the community, such as improving the primary school or buying medicines for the cattle. In this way the ruins can be conserved and at the same time living conditions of the local people can be improved.
Visiting Engaruka is a unique experience, provided that you are well prepared. Especially for longer walks, you are advised to:
– wear good walking shoes;
– carry enough food and water;
– leave early to avoid climbing the slopes in the heat of the day;
– take a hat and sunscreen with you;
– always follow the instructions of your guide.